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Or that the introduction of a modern American diet somehow magically zaps the willpower center of the human brain?

I have no science for this whatsoever, but my own experience is that in a way, that's exactly what happens: some salt-sugar-MSG type element in Cooked Freight and Big Food really does make me hungrier, more grazy and sharklike, constantly searching for food.

My first step in weight loss was to cut all of that stuff out (easy enough for me, very hard--as you point out--for many). THEN I could successfully cut calories and stay within a plan.

Every previous diet foundered on the shoals of cravings, because for all practical purposes, the modern American diet did indeed help sap my "willpower."

" And unless you want to start blaming poor people for being poor, it doesn't make any sense to blame fat people for being fat."
What makes you think we don't blame poor people for being poor. That's one of the basic tenets of Republican public policy nowadays. In fact one the the faux witticisms that spews from my conservative friends is that America is the only country where the poor peopl are fat! The connection between poverty and obesity can't be stressed enough.
I like your point about how changing public policy is actually easier than changing peoples habits. Of course you will run into opposition once again from the Right, who have decided, to paraphrase Paul Krugman, that using public policy to actually help people is immoral on it's face.
I've always been a skinny boy, but now that 42 is upon me I find my years of being a junk food junkie have left me with a classic 25 lbs of spare tire.
Trying to get rif of it is a lot harder than it should be. And I share most of the advantages you have.
Great writing as usual Greta.


I love your writing on this issue. Well, and all issues, of course, but as a thin-ish middle class person living in a good part of Canada (where healthy foods are both more cheaply available and more delicious) I've previously had a hard time empathizing with the very overweight (even though I knew objectively that there was more than laziness going on). It's very easy to let yourself think "can't they just buy less crappy food?" when *you* can do that. Privileged, I know, but in my defense I've gotten better about it. :)

Some of the fat-acceptance stuff I was hearing was obviously nonsense (as you've pointed out), but I reject the idea that the obesity problem isn't at least partly societal. You've done a great job in outlining these points and suggesting necessary changes. And society definitely does need to change. I am all for people being allowed for themselves whether or not they can be bothered to lose weight, but that's an entirely different thing than not having healthy food available, and forcing it on children (especially in schools).


I have no science for this whatsoever, but my own experience is that in a way, that's exactly what happens: some salt-sugar-MSG type element in Cooked Freight and Big Food really does make me hungrier, more grazy and sharklike, constantly searching for food.

That's very probably true, DarkEmeralds. The food scientists that work at fast-food companies know perfectly well that certain combinations of fat, salt and sugar trigger an endorphin rush in the brain (which is, in an absolutely literal and non-metaphorical sense, an addictive effect), and they deliberately design their recipes to encourage this. This effect is totally irrelevant to the food's nutritional value, or lack thereof: It trips all the right switches, and all your brain knows is that it wants more.

There's a good article on this on the Smithsonian's blog:

(And can I just say: How fucked up is that? What the hell kind of person derides fat people for being lazy and undisciplined... and then derides them for actually trying to take action on managing their weight and health?)

In Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett calls this the crab bucket. The main character goes to the fish market and notices that there's no lid on the crab buckets, and wonders why the crabs don't just escape. She then notices that every time one of them tries to crawl out, six other crabs grab it by the legs and drag it back into the bucket.

Later, when her friend tries to pursue the man and the career of her dreams, her friends and family start making fun of her for having ideas above her station and suchlike. This, our heroine concludes, is another form of crab bucket.

Other than that, I think what best explains people making fun of joggers is a sort of essentialism: if you're fat, that's part of who you are, like being human or female or right-handed or dark-skinned. If you have that mindset, then presumably a fat person trying to become a slim person is as absurd as Kyle's dad trying to turn into a dolphin on South Park. (Which segues naturally to people who want to change their sex, a subject you're probably in a far better position to comment on than I am.)

I could go on for pages about the connection between essentialism and creationism and homophobia and religion, but I, too, need to get on with it, so I won't.

John Morales

"Fat people are just lazy. The only reason they're fat is that they have no self-control, no willpower. If they want to lose weight, all they need to do is eat less and exercise more. It's that simple."

The third sentence is true.


Many people lose weight, but most of them soon gain it all back (I know, I was one of them). A while ago I found a way that works for me, though: alternate day calorie restriction. I've lost ~35kg with that, and kept it off for 9 months now. Basically it means you eat very little one day, and normally the next, etc. etc. It still sucks, of course, but much less than any other method I've tried, and I'm going to continue it indefinitely.


Greta, is there anything I can do to convince you to record this in video or audio? I have some folks in my life who absolutely need to hear it who won't read a lengthy article, even one as well written as this. (I'd read it to them, but I'm the fat, lazy sumbitch who has no willpower etc. etc. & so on.)


I'm a long time reader and first time commenter. I just wanted to share how happy it makes me that you write about this issue. I'm a public health student who often grapples with explaining my position on these issues to people in my life. This was such a perfect summary of my own stance that I am just going to point them in your direction next time I argue with somebody.

Judy K

There is also the carb connection to take into account. If you are at all insulin resistant, which many of us overweight people are (esp. Type II diabetics), eating carbs make us store energy in our fat cells, leaving us with little to run our bodies on. That produces hunger, and tiredness. Hunger causes us to eat more to replace the missing energy, and if we eat more carbs, the cycle continues. Tiredness adds to the battle.

Balancing calories-in with calories-out is another myth, and exercising helps very little.

Read "Why We Get Fat" and/or "Good Calories Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes.

Sabio Lantz

Good post -- yeah, the solution ain't accusation. Viable options are largely cultural. My wife and I lost a lot of wt for health but I doubt most people could be as disciplined as we are -- it was a total lifestyle change. It is not that they are lazy, they just don't get the connect and the benefit and much more. But more than that, as you say, the whole culture tells them they OK just keeping on the same way. I still get told weekly that I am skinny == pretty ironic.

I just put up NEW Nutrition KEYS up on my site to keep Obama's wife happy -- (humor) -- .

Nurse Ingrid

@ John Morales:

Didn't read the piece, I see.


Thank you for the thoughtful and thought provoking post. I agree with most of it and would like to comment on a couple points.

The basic math of weight equals calories in minus calories out still holds. That some people's metabolisms burn calories slower than others' doesn't invalidate the basic equation. It just means that the calories out variable is lower. I certainly don't recommend starvation as a weight loss strategy but it does show that sufficiently low caloric input produces weight loss.

Decades ago, in the 60's, I was on Food Stamps for a short time. I was amazed at the purchasing habits of many of my fellow food stamp shoppers, who bought expensive, processed foods and meals. I bought brown rice and beans, vegetables and the occasional cheap protein like chicken or fish because *it was so much cheaper*! Granted cooking rice and beans takes more prep time than heating up a TV dinner. But with a little planning, e.g. overnight soaking and using some sort of timed cooking device it was quite practical. There were no expensive Whole Foods or farmers' markets then. I shopped at pretty normal supermarkets and even then had the option of complex carbs (brown rice, whole grain bread). It was more a matter of knowing about the differences and accepting the litte extra work involved.

Andrew T.

I've always been on the skinny side myself, enjoy nutritious foods, and get satiated rather quickly. Perhaps because of this, I've sometimes had trouble fully understanding how people become fat. Thanks for this piece. It explains so much and touches so many relevant buttons on a complicated issue.

On a related note, a late, local entrepreneur named Paul Stitt once wrote a book called "Beating the Food Giants." It's well worth a read for getting an inside sense on the economic incentives for marketing nutritionally-deficient foods.


Going into this essay, I wasn't sure what I'd think. Coming out, I find I agree with almost everything you say. I cannot agree with the money section, though. When I became interested in better health, I found my food bills plummeting. Even though the food I bought for meals was more expensive, simply cutting out soda and snacks counteracted that. I'm pretty convinced that this is true for most people, if they add everything up - because we rarely do.

I also found it helped not to think about weight loss. Once your thoughts go that way, there's far too much confusion, too many conflicting claims. I simplified and thought about health. Then I thought about evolution, and realized if my ancestors wouldn't eat it, it probably isn't good for me, with a few exceptions. Walking is healthier than driving. The weight came off.

Regarding public policy, I agree entirely. Our government is doing everything it can to help big ag make money off of making us fat, so that big pharma can make money off of treating our diseases. Then when we want to lose weight, they both sell us products that don't work. Even if it turns out crap food is cheaper than good food, this will be because of the subsidies, and wouldn't be true in a free market.


@Puzzled: the money issue probably depends on where you are. Even within Canada, I find it much cheaper to buy good, healthy food in coastal B.C. than in northern Alberta, even though taxes in BC are a kajillion times higher. And we don't have food deserts or anything like that in the part of Alberta I'm from -- it's a matter of not being able to grow as much, having to ship it further, and because it gets picked unripe etc. etc., they charge way more just for fruit that actually tastes like fruit, and not water. :S

proton donor

Great article. One thing I really appreciated was pointing out that exercise isn't a magic bullet. Due to various personal issues (low tolerance for the physical pain caused by intense exercise, really poor attention span, massive workload, stuff like that) I've never been able to exercise as a matter of routine. Even though I've been able to keep what society deems an 'ideal' weight, I often feel shamed by these kinds of pro-exercise messages. So if messages like that can negatively affect thin people, I can't imagine what they must do to people who are actively trying to lose weight.


I so agree with everything you say in this post. I have been on a mission for years to get people to understand how the food industry undermines our health. I have tried to show people how to move away from processed foods even when their time is limited. But the lure of potato chips and McDonald's is a formidable obstacle, no doubt of that. I wish we didn't have all the food advertising and a fast-food "restaurant" on every corner and in every strip mall. And the food subsidies--those are just plain immoral for more than one reason. Keep speaking out on this topic! It's crucual.


Oops. "Crucial," not "crucual." Sigh.

2-D Man

I've got a bunch of things to say, but according to my quick perusal of the comments, nobody's pointed this out yet:

Nutritionist : dietitian :: homeopath : doctor

If you reproduce this post elsewhere, you might want to make that change at the beginning.

2-D Man

Having read the comments in depth, I don't have as much to say anymore.

The concept of a food desert left me flabbergasted. I live in coastal British Columbia, so maybe that's why I've been able to find at least five grocery stores within 1.5 km (a mile) of my home, all selling good, fresh produce at very reasonable prices.

(And can I just say: How fucked up is that? What the hell kind of person derides fat people for being lazy and undisciplined... and then derides them for actually trying to take action on managing their weight and health?)
Paraphrased from Junot Diaz's The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: "If you think people were mean to a fat person, you haven't seen them around a fat person trying to get skinny."

Thanks for writing this, Greta. I really, really struggle with my weight, and although societal and personal factors work against me, posts like this motivate me into wanting to try more than anything else. I wish I could just cut and paste everything you did and have it work for me but I find that certain things (like my finances) really struggle to accomodate any change. I'm thinking of going to my doctor though, and see if there's any help available on the NHS. Anyway, really, thanks for writing all this. :)


I agree with everything you said & would like to bring in another variable: stress.
I slowly lost 80# after retiring with very little conscious effort.
Craving salt/fat/sugar might have been a good response to stress 50,000 years ago...
I went from 215 to 135 at 5'3"


You are one of the best bloggers I've read, and I usually agree with you. Not this time, though. I'm a smoker; I know tobacco companies add compounds to enhance the addictiveness of cigarettes; I also know how tobacco smoke damages my lungs, my ciculatory system, etc. The choice is mine. Nobody is forcing me at gunpoint to smoke, just like nobody is forcing anyone to eat a supermegahalfpounder with double saturated fats. We are adults. Grow up.


@piero: Nobody *has* to inhale something into their lungs or they'll die. People *have* to eat. The difficulty in obtaining and preparing healthy food is not something you can just shrug aside as "people make bad choices, so fuck 'em if they suffer for it". Greta also isn't saying, "No one is at all personally responsible ever for making bad nutritional choices." It is, as the kids say, More Complicated Than That.


Indigo, I fail to see the difficulty in obtaining and preparing healthy food. Time consuming? Maybe. Not as convenient? Maybe. But difficult? If you choose to devote more time to advancing your career or hanging out with your mates, and have little time to cook, that's still your choice.

Is it really that complicated? I don't think so. I could make my own case very complicated by pointing to an endless array of sociological factors, but in the end it all boils down to a simple fact: I smoke because I want to.


@ piero:

I agree with you that we need to "grow up" and take responsibility for our health. But that's the same thing that Greta's saying in her article. Part of that "growing up" means being aware of all of the obstacles between you and good health.

No, we are not excused from responsibility, but neither are the corporations or the government which actively make it harder for us to get access to healthy food. As Greta pointed out, they're doing this using OUR money. That means we have the right to reclaim ownership of American food policy, from cultivation to processing to distribution.

Some major differences between smoking and obesity: Not smoking is way cheaper than smoking. Healthy food, on the other hand, is expensive (sometimes difficult just to find) and in this economy that can be a dealbreaker. Everyone now knows that cigarettes are simply unhealthy. But with food, there's still a ton of misinformation out there, even flat-out lies.

You're right that when it comes to good health, the choice is with the individual. But that choice boils down to more than just willpower. It also requires accurate information -- which is exactly what Greta's article is all about.


Great piece. I would also add that many adult obese individuals are on weight gaining prescription drugs (eg. antidepressants, corticosteroids,etc..) that cannot be easily treated with diet and exercise.


David, I agree with you. After re-reading the article I think I misinterpreted some of Greta's points, so I apologize.

Andrea Chopra

I saw this one time in the news. A food fair somewhere introduced a new dessert called fried Coke. I'm not kidding. They literally fried the Coca-cola on a deep fryer and served it with whipped cream. Why on earth are we doing this to ourselves? Unless we change our attitude toward healthy living and healthy eating, we will be plague with weight problems and their health consequences.


I’ve written a massive response to this, which is so big, I can’t really post it. I will try and sum it all up in some points :-
1. I am a type 2 diabetic. On a conventional medically supervised diet, I was putting on weight and seeing my BG levels go up. I was accused of lying about my lifestyle. I was due to go onto insulin which would have increased my weight substantially, to the point of becoming house bound.
2. I am now seeing my figures down by a third, I am losing weight but I consume a large number of calories (my favourite treat is whipped cream with some strawberry flavoured protein drink).
3. Low carbing has helped me, along with a big number of type 1 and type 2's – please see Dr Richard Bernstein’s diet.
4. The medical profession appears to see low carbers as people on a ‘quack’ diet. They ignore facts, such as “My BG levels have dropped”, “I don’t need so much medication” and “I’ve lost weight” and instead insist on keeping in complicated carbs, five portions of fruit and veg and even advocating a bit of sugar.
5. No one seems to know what ‘makes’ a type 2 diabetic – lifestyle is usually the number one choice (rightly or wrongly). Looking at the Pima people, where 95 % of them developed type 2 diabetes, perhaps everyone has the potential to get it? Perhaps every single person in the world might benefit from a drop in carbohydrates, or that there are many, many more people out there who have no idea they may have it/are pre-diabetic, and are therefore putting on weight due to being encouraged to eat fruit and vegetables.
6. Sometimes it’s the wrong exercise that doesn’t help – it could be that gentle muscle toning will enhance insulin resistance and cause people to lose weight.
7. Those fat joggers? They could be type 2’s on insulin and the wrong diet. They will continue to put on weight no matter how much they jog. I hope people who laugh at them can take that on board, please shove this in those mockers' faces if you find them.
8. I only went on Dr Bernstein’s diet as an alternative to starving myself, to make sure that my diabetic medication put me in a coma I would never recover from. I wish I had known about low carbing seven years ago. This is what comments like “You have no will power” leads to. I have to date : Given up smoking, given up drinking (I am an alcoholic) and have had to go through Induction flu through will power alone. My hunger pangs used to be so great I once considered eating part of my own arm to shut them up. I think I’ve proved that it’s not a will power issue. The hunger pangs have now subsided.
8. It would be nice to have someone discuss low carbing so that it could possibly help people. It may not help everyone, but it would be nice to highlight it more, and have it recognised as an alternative treatment.
Better than prayer, anyway :-).

Gregory Schieffer

Increasing physical activity and eating less are the only true way of getting in shape and loseing weight. Psychology is also one of the most important ingredients for success in losein weight.Thank you for the good information and the time it took to produce it.

Kelly Conrad

I certainly agree that the American diet introduced to someone is sure to increase your weight! I love to exercise and need to find a good diet supplement. However, even the people with good willpower will succumb to a cheeseburger and fries, and getting into a horrible eating plan. Fruits and veggies all the way man!


Wow, what a great article! First of all, congratulations on your own weight loss success!
So much of what you say in here is true, and so sad! Regarding the making fun of fat people while jogging, etc...that's one of the reasons I love to watch the Biggest Loser on t.v...these people are very obese, yet they are taught to get out there and move around and dispell those original fears of being made fun of. They are getting healthy no matter what.
As far as the fact that it's so much cheaper to eat unhealthy foods...that's also very true, but it's also doable to make the healthier choices and still stick to a budget. Albeit, not always fresh fruits and veggies, but maybe frozen varieties that don't have added sugar and preservatives, and buying lean protein in bulk is also helpful on the wallet.
I look forward to reading the next section of this article, and also looking back at your previous weight lossstuff.

Gastric Bypass Man

It’s difficult to get knowledgeable people today on this subject, but you sound like you know what you are talking about. Thanks for this informative post.

Matt White

You really did your homework. It is nice to hear a well thought out opinion on weight loss issues. Thanks for sharing.


Really God Site Mate!

Setya Eko

many people say that fat is a nest of disease. the fact it proved to be correct. the more fat we will also be increasingly reluctant to move or perform movements for the body. wrong diet and lifestyle is very bad influence. for a better life, let's do a healthy activity for our survival

Weight Loss

I really like the information giving here on this site,you have some real good tips on weight loss.

Gastric Bypass Man

Having a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle is really important. Not only in losing or maintaining the weight you want, but it's also the key to avoid obesity related diseases.

How To Lose Body Fat

Wow, amazing article. I don't think any stone was left unturned. Thanks for the info!

-A G @ EpicFit20


There is no secret button that will help you get to your goals. Americans are becoming more lazy because more technology is coming out and it becomes even more difficult to achieve fast safe weight loss. Choose some 17 Day Die Recipes program that is challenging and doesn't require you to have thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of training equipment. On the other hand, if you consume fewer calories than you burn, your body uses its fat reserves to make up the difference. When looking for a safe weight loss supplement, it is important to educate yourself about the various types available on the market. Your diet is the first thing you need to look at and tweak. Now the questions are how do we achieve these?The most popular advise is "do not eat processed food". It's when people do their own version of it that they have problems.


Everyone is different from other. If two human do and eat the same things, their weight will not be same.What can we say for this.A reason, Humans metabolism different.

Svetol Green

Very helpful post. What works for me is eating less and moving more. But I always make sure to eat those healthy food.

Zero carb diet

The idea behind weight loss is simple--burn more calories than you eat. This can be accomplished by replacing a couple of sodas with water and adding 20 minutes of walking each day. Sounds simple...and it is. If it's that simple, why can't we seem to do it?

Jennifer Oglow

It all boils down to discipline. Eat the right food and exercise regularly. That's how you do it!


The more fat we will also be increasingly reluctant to move or perform movements for the body.

Allen Carlos

Losing weight without hard exercise is not easy to do, but it is possible. According to the American Heart Association, those who are overweight are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.

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